Mission World - October 2021

Mission World - October 2021 - Highs and lows of Africa’s pandemic

Africa has not been immune from the coronavirus pandemic, but nor has it suffered in the catastrophic manner of the United States, Europe and parts of Asia or Latin America. For every 100 infections recorded across the world, it only accounts for five, despite estimates from Johns Hopkins University that only 1.5 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. Although it has roughly the same population as China and is far more heterogeneous, much of international media still tend to report on Africa as if it is one homogeneous scenario.

Missionaries have long pleaded with media and aid organisations to present a more balanced picture. While skeletal children, political unrest and violence may be riveting television and heartstring pullers for the charity dollar, missionaries say that although these situations are deserving of international attention, there is no such thing as an across the board reality or identity. Africa is but a geographical area embracing 54 recognised sovereign states and an even more vast collection of divergent cultural and linguistic identities.

Despite this disparity or perhaps because of it, the continent has so far resisted the worst ravages of the coronavirus. The World Health Organisation reported in August that the relative youth of the continent’s population has to date played in its favour. It has a medium age of only 19. “The pandemic has largely been in younger age groups (and) about 91 percent of the infections in sub-Saharan Africa among people below 60 is asymptomatic.”

Experience with the Ebola outbreak of 2013 to 2016 led to much more developed medical infrastructures and a significant up in expertise among practitioners, but the real backbone of the continent’s health systems has always been its strong community services.

Although reflecting sound medical practice, some virus precautions have produced a crippling variety of unintended side effects. Missionary societies report that people mobility curtailment has proved extremely problematic, as drought, insect plagues and extreme weather have converged on large areas to trap millions of people on now fruitless land. In other areas, lack of transport has severely disrupted food distribution.

Its significant lower income population results in many families relying on one member moving to a city or foreign country and sending remittances back home, but with usual transport routes closed, many have turned to the much riskier alternative of people smugglers, both more dangerous and expensive.

The closure of schools has seen feeding programmes for poorer students cease, depriving many of the most nutritious intake for the day, while their parents become victims of shrinking labour markets shedding themselves of the most vulnerable first, usually day workers and temporary migrants, who are least able to compensate for lost earnings.

Missionaries report that the sudden convergence of these unexpected factors brings the roll-on effect of food insecurity, malnutrition and a destruction of hope to a serious head. An avalanche of missionaries arrived from around 1650 onwards, which has seen the Catholic population grow to some 20 percent, even though numbers are low in some countries. While the extent to which the Church has thrown off its colonial past is somewhat disputed, it does have a long history as a provider of education and healthcare, and with the indigenisation of its clerical and religious personnel is better poised to be a constructive force of socio-political and economic reform.

This article was written on behalf of St Columbans Mission Society.

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Mission Intention for September 2021

We pray that we all will make courageous choices for a simple and environmentally sustainable lifestyle, rejoicing in our young people who are resolutely committed to this.

We ask your prayers:

The prayers of our readers are requested for the repose of the souls of friends and benefactors of the Missionary Society of St Columban who died recently and for the spiritual and the temporal welfare of all our readers, their families and friends.

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